Jiro Ono, the famed master sushi chef, has said:
Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.
Have you decided on your occupation? The part of your life which will likely require more attention and thought than anything else? If you’re like me, at 29, you may believe you have decided, or possess a strong leaning towards an occupation.
However, what do you do when you feel you have too many ideas or possible career paths? Business ideas and products seem to come spilling out of you, and it’s difficult to decide which to devote your life to! Further, should you settle on simply one thing, or become the modern renaissance man, able to dabble in many different pursuits?
Creative professionals lean towards thinking they have too many ideas, and of course they’re all good! Troubles is, ideas are often too divergent. Work at an established company, open a coffee shop, a fitness gym, write and teach, design websites, be a consultant, and on and on. Maybe you feel the same way, or have faced this earlier in life.
Which ideas do you focus on? And what if you pick the wrong set?
1. Pick Your Occupation
I recently watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and I felt I was watching my questions played out in front of me, answered by an 85 year old sushi chef. I realized I had been thinking about my ideas all wrong.
There is no shortage of good ideas in the world, and certainly no shortage in the minds of creative people. What sabotages us is the struggle to focus our creative energy and ideas to one occupation or calling.
2. Focus On The Ideas
I would see ideas in dreams. In dreams, I would see grand visions of Sushi. – Jiro
Do you think Jiro only dreams of sushi? He probably does, but his life is dedicated to mastering the art of sushi. His ideas are so numerous they spill over in to his dreams. To Jiro, there is no shortage of great ideas about sushi. He may dream and have ideas about other things, but likely he gives them nary a moment of his time or thoughts. There are too many ideas just about sushi!
This is a revelation to creative professionals. Our monkey-mind fascination with new ideas and side projects is an obstacle to be overcome. But by the same token, realize that when you devote your life to the pursuit of a craft, when you fall in love, that same fountain of ideas will be channeled in to a firehose of inspiration for your craft. The same random nature of your ideas will become focused on one thing, the very occupation you have dedicated your life to.
3. Commit To The Craft
To make such a choice is intimidating, we always want to be sure we’re choosing the right one. But if you take the long view of your choices, isn’t it enough to realize you can become truly great at one thing? Something you can be remembered by?
I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is! – Jiro
Jiro has realized that a lifetime is enough to dedicate to a single pursuit of excellence. He is the undisputed master of his domain, the first sushi chef to be awarded three stars by Michelin. But despite his success, and the ideas which daily inspire new ways of working and crafting the finest sushi in the world, Jiro continues to aspire to greatness. He is not satisfied with the awards and honor of his peers. Jiro seeks to better himself and his craft on a daily basis.
4. Work With Like-Minded People
I told the Hyatt hotel I wouldn’t sell Jiro’s favorite rice to them… because they don’t know how to cook it! – Rice vendor
In the creative field, how often do we see people rest on the laurels of their success, content to coast? Their work is not about pushing the envelope, it’s about accumulating wealth and status. Several times in the film, Jiro, his apprentices, and vendors insist “our work is not about the money, it’s about being the best”. What is the driving force behind your work?
Finally, for all of his success, Jiro has made a habit of surrounding himself with like-minded people. His son, apprentices, and vendors all share the same passion for mastering their craft, whether in sushi, tuna, rice, or shrimp. Surround yourself with people who are on your side, who support your work, and hold you accountable in your focus.
5. Insist On Excellence
As we saw with Jiro’s rice vendor, he demands excellence in all aspects of his work. His tuna vendor buys the best tuna, not the most, only purchasing 10% of the tuna he inspects. The man insists, “Out of ten tuna, only one can be the best.”
Jiro only accepts apprentices who are willing to commit to ten years of work (minimum), before Jiro will name them Shokunin (master craftsman). He accepts them and teaches the same techniques he uses each day, coaching and refining the apprentices through many years and many failures.
If they are willing to show up and commit, so is Jiro. One apprentice describes making Tamagoyaki over 200 times before Jiro deemed it acceptable to serve. The apprentice wept tears of happiness. He was Shokunin.
Do not fear your choice, it doesn’t mean you will always be at the same company or even the same job title. The gift of choice is that it offers clarity, and focuses your ideas. The transformation will not happen overnight, and there will be failures. But to become Shokunin in your work is to always be in demand. In a world of monkey-minded generalists, you will stand out.
So dream, and see grand visions of your art.